Northern Irish prosecutors are pondering whether to charge two police officers with Computer Misuse Act offences after what local reports described as a Twitter trolling campaign.
Local politicians and lawyers were said to have been targeted by a Twitter account called @DonYeeoo – and its operators also allegedly tweeted information that only police officers could have known.
Belfast Live reported the probe, which appears to have broadened to include the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) since it was first opened in 2017.
In a statement, a Police Ombudsman's office spokesman told the Northern Irish news website: "In July 2020, the Police Ombudsman submitted files to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) following an investigation into complaints about the conduct of police officers in relation to their use of social media."
It continued: "Files relating to two police officers were submitted to the PPS to consider if there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the officers for the offences of misconduct in a public office, harassment, unlawful breaches of the Data Protection Act, unlawful breaches of the Computer Misuse Act and theft."
The inclusion of potential CMA charges is unusual in a social media case. Normally the act is used (in mainland Britain) as a sweeping-up provision for offenders whose online crimes don't easily fall under other laws. For example, a woman who deleted 5,000 files from her former business associate's Dropbox account, causing his new company to fail, was convicted under the CMA (and received a suspended sentence).
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Raw numbers of CMA prosecutions in England and Wales are low. Last year prosecutions for computer misuse offences actually declined, despite a reported increase in computer-dependent crimes during the pandemic as the world switched to remote working.
On the flip side, of the 45 prosecutions brought in 2020 a full 95 per cent resulted in a guilty verdict or plea by the defendant – even though it was the lowest number of court charges brought under the CMA since 2013.
Although the CMA was written to deal with criminal online intruders, the number of true so-called "blackhat" crimes dealt with under the act is relatively low. One such example of a script kiddie feeling the force of the law was in June, when Bradley Niblock was banned from using Tor or registering "vanity" handles on social media platforms.
Niblock was a member of black-hat crew Lizard Squad, mostly composed of younger Britons doing idiotic things to show off to each other. Inevitably their DDoSing caught the eye of the police and Crown Prosecution Service. ®